Interview with Peter Thomas


Interview with Peter Thomas


Peter was born in Nelson, Lancashire and had two brothers. He was sixteen when he left school in 1940 and got a job until joining the Royal Air Force in 1943. He went to London Air Crew Reception Centre before going to Initial Training Wing at RAF Paignton. He then moved to Cambridge where he spent time on Tiger Moths. He was told he would be a navigator and from there he went to Liverpool to sail to Canada and start his training before going to Moncton receiving centre and then on to Toronto. On one occasion Peter flew over Niagara Falls. After training Peter got shipped back to Great Britain, arriving in Scotland before going to Pannal Ash College. He then moved to the operational training unit at RAF Husbands Bosworth where crews were formed. The crew went to the Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Woolfox Lodge to train on Lancasters with 149 Squadron. They were then posted to RAF Methwold. When training on Wellingtons they had to make an emergency landing due to loss of an engine. He also recalled a trip in a Mosquito when the pilot crashed the aircraft but no one was injured. The crew was sometimes designated to take aerial photographs and was also involved with Operation Exodus and Operation Manna. Peter was demobbed as a warrant officer. After the war Peter and his family did a lot of camping. He said he had enjoyed everything he had done in life. Peter thought that Bomber Command did not received the recognition it deserves.




Temporal Coverage




01:33:14 audio recording


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MC: The interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The Interviewer Is Mike Connock and the interviewee is Peter Thomas. The interview is taking place at Mr Thomas’ home at [buzz] Lincoln on Friday the 2nd of March 2018. Also in attendance is Peter Selby and Catherine Selby. Ok. Peter, what I’d like to start with is just to start with just tell me a bit about when and where you were born.
PT: Oh, I was born 26 Glenfield Road, Nelson. Are you picking that up?
MC: Yeah. That’s fine.
PT: Yeah. That’s where I was born. Nelson.
MC: When was that?
PT: 26 Glenfield Road, Nelson. There’s a lot of twenty sixes in my life and I regard them as being of good fortune. So I was born at 26 Glenfield Road, Nelson.
MC: In Lancashire.
PT: Lancashire.
MC: Yeah. What, what did your parents do?
PT: My father was a furniture manager and my mother stayed at home and she had three sons to look after. You know going to work and playing football and taking dirty washing to her, you know [laughs] from football because it was a slushy, a bit of a slushy pitch.
MC: What do you remember about your schooldays then, Peter?
PT: Oh, I liked, in contrast to my younger brother who didn’t like it I loved the school. It was Nelson Secondary School and it was just, I don’t know. I should have brought a photograph of it but it was just off the off the, off Walton Lane and it was on Oxford Road. So From Glenfield Road you went there, there and on Oxford Road and there behold. And in recent times, it was built in 1927 and the headmaster was a very strict man. He was. He was mad on getting people through. He was only interested in getting through, people through matriculation as it was then. So, I went there at in 1934 and I was about eleven.
MC: Yeah. And how old were you when you left school?
PT: When I left school?
MC: How old were you?
PT: 1940.
MC: Were you sixteen?
PT: Yeah. Sixteen or seventeen. Yeah.
MC: So what was your first job then when you left school? What did you do after you left school?
PT: When I was, I always had a, had a flair for writing. Not clever stuff. Just writing. Copy anything. And I went for a job at the Marsden Building Society but just when that came up there was another one in the Treasurer’s Department and I thought oh that’s my, that’s what I want. So I went to, I had an interview, borrowed my brother’s overcoat because it was a very small one and got through this interview and I think it was fortuitous that this interview the chap I interviewed or the gentleman I interviewed was Harry Crabtree and he was the, he was one of the old school treasurers. He’d got to the stage when he was back, he was a deputy treasurer but he was conveniently bypassed from the treasurer [Hyram] Reed who was a Geordie. Very clever man and he bypassed Harry Crabtree and came around to Steve Dyson. He was, he was the chief accountant and Steve [pause] was to do with [pause] Steve but there’s a funny little story about Harry Crabtree. He said, I was a junior at that time and he said, ‘Are you busy, Peter?’ And I said, ‘Well, no more than usual.’ Because I worked behind the counter and I also did another job which was ancillary to the ledgers that were being prepared and, ‘No,’ I said, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Just come into my office.’ So I got in to his office and the whole floor was covered with disused envelopes and he had a, he had a pile of new envelopes, new stick ons and we spent the afternoon sticking these temporary covers on these envelopes which was a bit strange for a deputy treasurer. But he was, I think they gave him, I think the only job that he got was I think he did loans. Something like that. Something that was really not, not responsible. The main man was [Hyram] Reed who came from the northeast. He was a Geordie and he was a clever man. And Steve Dyson, he was the chief accountant.
MC: So you worked there until you got, the you joined the —
PT: Eh?
MC: You worked there ‘til you joined the Air Force did you?
PT: Yes. Yes. I did.
MC: When did you join?
PT: I was there ‘til 1943.
MC: How old were you then?
PT: I was twenty then.
MC: Twenty.
PT: Yeah.
MC: So you —
PT: Well, I was born in 1923. So twenty. Yeah.
MC: So you joined the Air Force at twenty.
PT: I joined in nineteen [pause] Well, I joined in 1943 and I had to wait to go in. I wasn’t called up ‘til twelve months after.
MC: You were called up were you?
PT: Yeah. Well, I’d, I’d actually joined when I was about eighteen or nineteen. I can’t just remember the date.
MC: So, did you volunteer for aircrew then?
PT: Oh yes. Well, I’d had a little hiatus as it were and I, my, my friend was joining the Navy and I thought I’d have a go at the Fleet Air Arm and of course I didn’t get accepted because the gentlemen, there were these guys with the old, you know they were old sweats of, of the Navy. And they had bother with the, and one of them produced two, two aircraft and he said, ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s this?’ And I didn’t know because the gentleman in Nelson who was crazy to go in the Air Force and be a navigator he was a newly appointed headmaster at [unclear] Senior School. And because I wasn’t able to stay at the Primary School I’d been sent down and there was only me that went there. I can’t know why. But I went down to this Senior School, and I did twelve months and conveniently failed the scholarship again so, to go to the Grammar School. So anyway, I sat an entrance exam to the Grammar School and I was top of that school. Of that class. There were thirty and Francis Myers who was the temporary headmaster said, ‘Peter Thomas.’ So I stood up and he said, ‘You did rather well in arithmetic. We’ve got a place for you in the scholarship class.’ So having failed the scholarship exam twice I finished up in this scholarship class and it was very interesting, you know. Of course, it swelled my head a bit. Consequently, at the first exam at Christmas I was twenty nine out of thirty. That really shook me so after that I was never out of ten. I was always usually in the first five or six in the class in the exams and we were going to sit, we should have been able to sit for the [pause] for the school whatever exam it was but the, they introduced a remove over a year where we had to wait another year. So instead of it being a four year to, to matriculation if that’s the right word we had to wait ‘til, they called it five remove and I was in, in that situation with, with a lot of brainy fellas actually.
MC: That’s why you finished up at —
PT: In fact, there was only one fella —
MC: Yeah.
PT: In that class who managed to get in to the A Section and he was studying to be a doctor and he was KS Oate, of [unclear] Road, Nelson.
MC: My word.
PT: Yeah.
MC: What a memory.
PT: Sorry.
MC: Yeah. So what you, so you joined the Air Force say in ’43. Where did you first go when you joined up?
PT: Well, when I joined up I went to RAF Waddington and I think it was RAF Waddington I got, that’s when I —
MC: No. You did your basic. Where did you do your basic training?
PT: I went, I went to London to do to be accepted because you had the eye tests and hearing and eyes and curiously my friend who’d rode a motorbike he, when we came back I said, ‘How did you go on Milton?’ And he said, and he said, ‘They failed me.’ He said, ‘They failed me on eyes.’ He said, ‘I’ve, was riding my motorbike without goggles. I’ve altered the focal length of my eyes.’ So he was, so he said, ‘I’m going to be a despatch rider in the Army.’ He said, ‘I’ve finished with the Air Force.’ And he went back to his uncle who had a bakery and curiously enough he never got called up. He just worked in this bakery and he, he owned it eventually and that was that was my friend Milton Fothergill.
MC: Yeah. But you went to London and that was —
PT: I went to London.
MC: Aircrew Reception Centre.
PT: Pardon?
MC: Aircrew Reception Centre.
PT: Yes.
MC: Yeah.
PT: I went to London. And then from London I went to Paignton. That was ITW. ITW at Paignton. I was there four or five months and from there when I’d passed out of there we didn’t, we were at the Singer Estate and we did running and sport. And we had a fellow called Chang and he was a, he was a guy who wanted to drive you to kingdom come in running through this Singer Estate. And there was also a boxing ring you know but I didn’t get involved with that I can assure you. No. I’m not a boxer. Anyway, from, from Paignton we moved to [pause] I moved to Cambridge and I did four, twelve hours flying on Tiger Moths but I was, I was a bit unlucky. The first two hours the chap was an Australian pilot. A trainer. A teacher and he said ‘Oh, we’re not going to have any bother with you are we?’ And he came the next day and he said, he said, ‘I’ve been posted.’ He said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ So then we got another chap who [pause] who’d have been in an accident so he wasn’t very, I weren’t very happy with him. But in the meantime, a Manchester policeman called Charlie Kent grumbled about his position, his situation, so they gave him, they gave him my, they gave him, I got his trainer you see. And so as a result of that I didn’t get selected as pilot. When I got to Manchester and there was a big auditorium of combination of Nissen huts I suppose. I don’t know. It was a big hangar type of place and I was in there and my 026 was called out and they said, do you know they called out my name, my number 026 and I’ve a lot of stories on 026. Anyway, they said, ‘Yeah. Straight navigator.’ So I, well they didn’t say that but I knew that when he said what he’d intimated. That I wouldn’t be a pilot. I’d be a navigator. So that was alright. I mean I didn’t know what was what at the time.
MC: Did you, did you have to do any aptitude tests for navigator or did they just say you’re a navigator?
PT: No. They didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t go up for, I went from Manchester to, I went from Manchester and I finished up in Liverpool to go on a ship to Canada. And when I was on this ship, I mention it in passing because we were still avoiding submarines. Still avoiding submarines and as we were going south during the day he got one of the, one of the chaps got burned and he was the, we were going down to the Azores where it was sunny. And then we came up the Atlantic coast past America, you know. New York and right and came into Halifax so that’s where I started my initial training. In Halifax.
MC: Obviously avoiding the submarines in the North Atlantic.
PT: Yeah. And avoided that. Yes. And I went to, I went on a train from Halifax to Moncton and that was a Receiving Centre. And I met a chap who lived up the street from me and he was Naval uniform and I said, ‘What are you doing here, Harold?’ I can’t remember his last name. He was called Harold anyway. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m, I’ve trained as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm.’ So where I’d failed the interview for Fleet Air Arm he, who couldn’t pass his scholarship could. He had a job getting in to, he couldn’t get into the Grammar School. Anyway, he passed, passed for Fleet Air Arm. Anyway, and he’d done flying you know and he went back to England and I don’t think he, I think you won’t believe this but he’d failed on ship recognition. So, so he didn’t get much further in the, I think he finished up on trainers. You know. Link trainers. You know the sort of [pause] he was. He became a teacher.
MC: On link trainers.
PT: In that respect. And he were. He was a teacher anyway and he finished up a teacher. I mean they weren’t the brightest some teachers were they?
MC: Yeah [laughs]
PT: Anyway.
MC: So your navigator’s training started at Malton, Ontario.
PT: Basically yes. I mean we had a long journey from, from Halifax to, to Moncton and then on again through, through Montreal overnight down to, we arrived on the 1st of January nineteen forty something. ’43.
MC: ’44.
PT: ‘44. We arrived at Toronto and we were wondering around in this place and it were, it was the Town Hall. There were no, there were books and files and I don’t why, how we managed to get in and somebody eventually appeared and there’d been a notice of arrival and we got a gash meal you know. And then, then of course we were filtered out to, it was Malton. It wasn’t Toronto International then. It was Malton Airport and we, we were stationed there and that’s where I did my first flying.
MC: What aircraft was that in?
PT: Pardon?
MC: What aircraft was that in?
PT: Avro Anson.
MC: Oh, the Anson.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: Yeah. And I did all the flying in Canada on Avro Ansons and I passed everything there. I used to get, I used to get, ‘Ahh Monsieur Thomas.’ That was a Polish, [Weselovski], and [Denowski] and they all wanted to fly with Peter Thomas because they knew I could do it because I’d had so much training with this Mr Brooks at the Senior School In Nelson and he, he trained me on navigation and I never, I never had any trouble with any problems in navigation because I got such a grounding in navigation. And of course, I passed out in Canada as a, as a navigator.
MC: What rank were you then?
PT: I was an LAC but my friend who I met on the ship going out he happened to be on the same walking around the ship at night with, with rifles supposedly on guard you know and we finished up together as friends. And when it came to the exams I was about fourth. Fourth on the course and he was seventeen. But he knew a general in Ottawa didn’t he? So, so that made it rather difficult for me. So he got the commission and I got three stripes. So I came back a sergeant and he came back an officer and he was very generous. He said, ‘You know they’ve robbed you haven’t they Peter?’ They knew, he knew what the game was you know because he’d been, he’d had a forty hour pass, forty hour leave and he’d gone up to see this general in Ottawa. So he, you know the wheels had turned you know and his father was Sir Arthur Smout who’d done, who was doing business on armaments with Paul Revere Incorporated who had a vast building in New York because subsequently David Smout as he was called, we were subsequently invited to have a weekend at New York. So we went overnight on the train to New York and David rang the, the Paul Revere Incorporated and we went around this level of where they were so that it, they showed us New York from four points you see.
MC: Brilliant.
PT: And then at dinnertime we went to the [pause] to the Columbia. I think it was the Columbia. It was a restaurant you know. I’ve forgotten the name of the restaurant. Anyway, it don’t matter and we had our meal with these and then these two gentlemen said, ‘Well, we play Bridge at Saturday afternoon.’ Him and his deputy. So he said, ‘We’ll see you at teatime at this address.’ It was on 5th Avenue. So they bundled me and David off to, to the Rockettes. You know, the famous American Rockettes. The girls who were dancing and stuff. And then there was other items and then they finished up with, with somebody called Doris Day, I think it was in, “Up in Arms.” Yeah. And we watched that. And then of course we, we appeared in these drab Air Force uniforms because all Americans were in if they were in khaki it was serge. There were none of this rough stuff and we were in these rough and we were introduced at 5th Avenue, at this address of this president and we were introduced as Lieutenant Thomas and Smout [laughs] And of course we were LACs weren’t we? Anyway, we didn’t tell them did we? And during that meal David managed to spill his ice cream and I I had a little argument about, with the other chappie, he was, of course they were very strict Conservatives and I was, I’d come from Nelson and Nelson was a [laughs] well you couldn’t be any stronger labour than Nelson. It was a really [pause] yeah. So then from there if you just let me finish, then from there when we, when I’d finished at —
MC: When you finished in Canada.
PT: In Toronto. I had the chance. I had the choice of going up to Montreal or, I’d seen a dance band. Louis Armstrong on the shores of Lake Ontario and, and that week that I was to go I had the choice to see to go and see Duke Ellington who was my, he was one of the great jazz musicians. Have you ever heard of him? Eh? Yeah.
MC: Indeed. Yeah.
PT: Anyway, I went to, I went to Montreal and I met a chap who was a writer in the Navy. A writer is a clerk I think, and this was Bill Farmer, he was, he became a solicitor but he was in the Navy and he was a writer and we met up and we had, well we had at least a day together and then I was left on my own. And then I met a nice lady from [pause] she was, she was a French lady. She spoke, because when I rang her up she said, ‘Oui?’ She didn’t say yes. She said, ‘Oui.’ And she spoke French of course and she spoke English as well so it didn’t matter. And then from there we went back. I went back to Toronto. I did my flying from Malton Airport. Malton Airport was, became Toronto International. Big stuff you know. Toronto International.
MC: So having finished your flying, your navigator training in Canada you then got shipped back to the UK.
PT: Yes.
MC: And where did you come to?
PT: And then when we had, we were in the, we were in a Dutch boat and we got a, the bells all ringing and it all went boom boom boom. We were in the middle of the Atlantic and quite frankly I was shit scared you know [laughs] and we had to appear on deck with our life jackets on like this and we were all lined up like that. And it were just an exercise to see if you could do it if it actually happened. So anyway, we arrived at Gourock in Scotland and we were then posted to Pannal Ash College which was just a holding place. We didn’t do any lessons there. But there was a, it was a, Pannal Ash College was it was probably a private school and they had a swimming pool outside which was, it had sort of been a temporary dugout and the water ran in and it ran out at the other end and the only way you could get in, you could get in at the top but the only way you could get out was at the bottom and it were freezing this water because it was a river you see. Anyway, we, that passed and we from there —
MC: So, there wasn’t any flying there.
PT: No. No flying there. No. No. I think, I think we went up to Millom and did, did some flying from there. And that was when we were flying from Chicken Rock and up to the, up to all the islands of Scotland. Did a lot, quite a bit of flying up there.
MC: And that was in Ansons again, was it? Oh right.
PT: Pardon?
MC: That was in the Avro Anson again. Avro Anson.
PT: Yes. The same as in Canada. And then we moved down from there to Husbands Bosworth.
MC: Was that —
PT: That was a —
MC: That was the Operational Training Unit.
PT: Yes. OT. Yes, it was. Yeah. And there we, we had this incident of not arriving. We were, we were flying on a, on a course and the engine, flight engineer who I think at that time was still the mid-upper gunner but he was looking after the petrol tanks, you know, switching the tanks. And he said, he said, ‘I think, I think we’ve got a problem here skipper with the, with the petrol. Supply of petrol.’ So they started then looking for somewhere to land. And they got, they got a position line from, from the wireless operator the Welshman, Peter [Hoare] and they went, they got this, they got this position line to Leicester. Leicester way. Leicestershire. Leicester. But before that happened the skipper noticed a landing place and it was, it was, it was a grass landing arrangement. It was [pause] I’ve just forgotten the name. I think, is it there?
MC: When was that? Was that while you were at Husbands Bosworth?
PT: When we came back to England that was.
MC: Yeah. It was.
PT: That was when we were [coughs] we were on a, on a —
MC: Was that at Millom?
PT: Pardon?
MC: Was that at Millom or Husbands Bosworth?
PT: That was —
MC: When you were at the OTU.
PT: That was, that was after Millom, I think.
MC: Yeah. The OTU.
PT: Yeah. And that’s when John spotted this landing. It was grass you see. It was a grass landing and they were training pilots because I met a chap there. He knew me from the Grammar School and we had a few days there and they were enjoyable and then we were carted back in a wagon to where we were you know.
MC: Because it mentioned that you force landed.
PT: Yes.
MC: At Penkridge.
PT: Yes. That’s right.
MC: Penkridge.
PT: Forced landing in this grass landing and we just of course it wasn’t it wasn’t designed for Wellington bombers it were designed for Tiger Moths you know. It wasn’t designed for [laughs] for landing these bigger aircraft and he just landed. And he’d had trouble landing this Wellington when we were at, when we were training on the Wellington. He had a devil of a job landing these Wellingtons. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. I was just about to ask you what aircraft.
PT: And —
MC: And you’ve just answered that. Yeah.
PT: The story goes that he used to just, he used to sing, “Johnny’s Hero,” when he were, when he were coming in to land you know. Anyway, we got through that and he landed and they just pushed the wheels over of this fence and that was it. We, we were carted back to the base with, to where we had come from with, in a van. In a wagon, you know. And the, they sent a chap to fly this Wellington to get it out of this grass landing affair. Of course, they landed in a, they landed in, they landed in a Morris Oxford, in an Oxford. There was an aircraft called an Oxford. It was comparable to the Anson.
MC: I know it.
PT: This Oxford, it had a little accident and landed so that was [other voices not part of interview] But finished with Wellingtons. We moved up to Lancasters. To convert on to Lancasters.
MC: Oh, it was a Conversion Unit. Yeah.
PT: Yeah. That was Woolfox Lodge and that’s where, that’s where I really was. I think about it even today one morning I was sat in the navigation room and there was a blue serge uniform. He was an officer and, and I didn’t really know this face but I knew the morning after when he wasn’t there that he was killed the day after. They came. This crew were regarded as being the best crew in the, in the intake. There were eight. I think they were either six or eight crews in the intake.
MC: Yeah. Can we just go back slightly? Obviously, you’ve gone to the Conversion Unit. When did you crew up?
PT: When what?
MC: When did your crew get together?
PT: Oh, did it, yes. When we moved from Millom where we’d done this Avro Anson flying we went to —
PT: Then you went to the OTU.
MC: Pardon?
PT: When you went to the OTU.
MC: OTU at —
PT: Husbands Bosworth.
MC: Husbands Bosworth.
PT: Yes. Is that when crewed up with them?
MC: Was that at Husbands Bosworth?
PT: Yeah. You’re not recording now.
MC: Yes. I am.
PT: Especially —
MC: Is that when you crewed up?
PT: Yes.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. But that would have been a five man crew there.
PT: I often tell the story about my younger brother who was always a tendency to knock me, you know. And being knocked with the elder brother and knocked with the younger brother because I was the middle one and he, I’m trying to think. Well, he’d be surprised who chose the pilot because there’s a story about who chose the pilot. Because I’m in the NAAFI queue or some queue and I’d been [he's left the door open] We moved from Millom to Husbands Bosworth and that’s where we crewed up. And we were in this queue and somebody tapped me on the shoulder and he said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘We’re looking for a navigator. We’ve got, we’ve got an air gunner and a mid-upper gunner and a wireless operator and a bomb aimer,’ he said. ‘But we haven’t got a navigator.’ And, ‘Would you like to join us?’ They knew I was a navigator. ‘Would you like to join us?’ And that. ‘Yes. I’m happy to join you if you think I’m suitable.’ And from there we chose the pilot. The pilot was called Dennis Johns and he was a, he’d been a public school lad but he was, he wasn’t, he didn’t strike me as being a very well educated man but he, he was, he was alright.
MC: Was he a good pilot?
PT: Sometimes we wondered. I wondered. They wondered about me with navigation. I wondered about him. But I have to say yes he was a brilliant pilot because we finished [laughs] We finished.
MC: You arrived at Husbands Bosworth. Yeah.
PT: And there’s, that’s where we crewed up.
MC: Yeah. You said.
PT: And we chose, we eventually chose this Johns for a pilot. We chose him. My younger brother would have essentially have said the pilot chooses the crew but no it wasn’t like that. It was always different to what he thought because he was, I was not knocked with, I had two brothers. An elder brother and the younger brother and I used to get knocked from both sides so —
MC: I remember you saying. Yeah.
PT: But —
MC: Yeah. So you went on the, on to the —
PT: I won though you know because they’re both dead [laughs]
MC: [laughs] Bless you. So you went to the Conversion Unit on to Lancasters.
PT: I went up to the, yes and this is where there was a tragedy. I don’t, I didn’t mention it.
MC: Yeah.
PT: There was a tragedy because they were, they were reckoned to be the best crew.
MC: Ah, you said. Yeah. Yeah.
PT: And —
MC: His uniform was there.
PT: And they were coming back from a diversionary sweepstake. No bombs. No. No. The war had nearly finished and they were coming back and they lost an engine and then they flew a bit further and they lost another engine. And then as they were coming in to land they had to just turn like that and he lost another engine. He went like that and they were all killed. And he was the chap that was sat next to me the morning before and he was, and I think, I think many a time about that that family losing that boy.
MC: Yeah.
PT: Because he was an officer. I probably wouldn’t have bothered if he’d been a sergeant like I was [laughs] Stamina.
MC: So, so when you finished at the Conversion Unit —
PT: Yeah.
MC: You were then posted to your first, your squadron.
PT: Yes.
MC: What squadron was that?
PT: 149.
MC: And where was that?
PT: Methwold.
MC: Methwold. So you —
PT: Methwold was a satellite of, I think it was a satellite of Mildenhall.
CS: You’re on the Mildenhall Register, aren’t you?
PT: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: Yes. And that was obviously with the same crew. Johns.
PT: Oh yes. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: We were on. We were, we were crewed up together for about two years and then in the middle of 1946 I would say, you know. After we was, we were together from nineteen forty —
MC: Yeah. The story, I think goes while you were there about the Astro compass. Can you —
PT: Oh yeah. Well, that was on the operation.
MC: Oh, was it? Which operation was that?
PT: The Kiel.
MC: Oh Kiel. Yeah.
PT: Yeah. Kiel. Yeah. I should have kept my mouth shut but I didn’t as usual. Big mouth. No. I put this, I put this Astro compass . It was a disastrous operation. We got to the to the Danish coast and I warned the skipper. I warned him. I said, ‘We’re much too early. We’re at least twenty minutes. Fifteen twenty minutes too early. We should be doglegging.’ And of course, there’s a risk when you dog leg that these oncoming on stream can be, you can —
MC: Collisions.
PT: Go in to one.
MC: Yeah.
PT: So he didn’t want to do that. He said, ‘We’ll go in with the first wave.’ Typical Johns you know. And anyway we, I think when we, I think we were so early that when I got the message from what was being said that the main target was under the wing when we, when we got through so we missed that. So we turned around and we turned back to come back and this is where there was such lack of brains. We should have made allowances for all the time that we’d lost when we should have gone back up over the North Sea and got away from any impending German fighters because as we were flying the rear gunner said, ‘Port go.’ And Johns just put his wing [psst] and we lost about twelve thousand feet in no time. When we pulled out of this operation we were about six thousand feet, or six hundred feet. I’m not quite sure but I know, I know it were, it was a bit dangerous.
MC: So where does the Astro compass come into this story?
PT: Well, when, when we, I don’t know if it was before or after but when we were flying along and we were, we were trying to find out where we were the astrocompass it does not give you a fix but it gives you a position line. So when you put the astrocompass in the right way around, the first time I put it in the wrong way around but I mean that was so what? You were under a lot of stress then you know. I turned it around and put it in the right way and I said, ‘We’re going in a westerly direction skipper. You’ve no need to worry.’ And I asked him. I said, ‘Is your P4 compass working?’ He said, ‘Yes, but it’s better that you give me the position line,’ because the P4 compass it’s a bit dodgy really. It’s not, not too reliable. Anyway, we ploughed on and ploughed on and we, we had this incident with a fighter, with a German fighter when he said, ‘Port go.’ That meant go and Johns —
MC: Corkscrew.
PT: Responded to Cherokee. He was called, our rear gunner was called Cherokee and he came from Dumbarton. Yeah. Are you recording all this? Very good. And he came from Dumbarton and he was only a little fella but he were a good rear gunner. He spotted this one that was approaching us and went [psst]. We lost a lot of time. I think double quick time and never saw that guy. Now, possibly he thought well the war’s over why, why risk myself? Because he could have got shot down you know. We never saw him again and we kept ploughing on and ploughing on and then, then we, we flew as somebody said it’s a, we’re flying over a big lake and I knew what that was. It was the Zuiderzee as I knew it. And we got through the Zuiderzee and by that time, I’ve forgotten to mention that all through this operation the Gee box which gave you a fix, it gave you a position line and, and both. With the Gee box it was, it gave you a fix. You got these two posters.
MC: Yeah. Height and —
PT: The B Posts and the C Post and when you lined them up you locked the machine and it gave you a reading. And you had a special Gee box map which told you your, you read off the numbers and you got where you were.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And of course, it’s a lot. We was trusted. A bit stressful, you know.
MC: Well, the navigator. Yeah. Right. Of course.
PT: Yeah. Anyway, we got through this Zuiderzee.
PS: But they were jamming you, Peter weren’t, they were jamming you.
PT: Got through the Zuiderzee.
CS: At night. At night.
[recording paused]
MC: Yeah, but —
PT: Somebody else. And he said, ‘It hasn’t been so good, sir’. He said, ‘You’re first back,’ he said, ‘And don’t worry about anything,’ he said, ‘Because they’ve been all over the sky this operation.’ He said, ‘It’s been a real shocker,’ he said. ‘So you’ve done very well.’ And when I signed my, I signed it you know he said, ‘And that’s,’ he said, ‘When you get to Civvy Street,’ he said, ‘That’s signature is worth two thousand pounds.’
CS: Dad. When, when you did, when you dropped height when you’d seen the German fighter.
PT: Yeah.
CS: Isn’t that when all your —
PT: Oh yeah.
CS: Instruments went up in the air.
PT: When he, when he went like that.
CS: When you dived.
PT: He went. You flew up in the air and landed on the floor and dropped me down on my hands and knees trying to find these instruments you know. Pencil and that you know. Bits of stuff that you use you know.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: There was I think it was about as big as that book and it gave you, you set it up and it was a, it was like a mini computer.
MC: Yeah. I know what you mean. Yeah.
PT: You know what I mean.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: You know what —
MC: Navigation computer. Yeah.
PT: Eh?
MC: Your navigation computer.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: Yeah.
MC: So the story also about the [unclear] navigator who was, whose Lanc crashed when he came back from a diversion raid.
PT: Yeah, and then crashed.
MC: What happened there?
PT: Well, they went —
CS: That’s the one that [failed]
PS: You had that.
MC: Oh, that is the same one is it. Yeah. It is.
PT: They went, they went they went on a diversionary sweep and as they were coming back they lost an engine. They were at Woolfox Lodge.
MC: Yes. That’s the one you were telling me about. Yeah.
PT: They lost an engine.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And then they lost another engine.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And —
MC: Yeah. You’ve told me about that. He flipped over his back.
PT: Over.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And they were all killed.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: And that was the chap that was sat next to me the morning before and I knew who he was.
MC: Yeah.
PT: I didn’t know him personally but I know, I knew who he belonged to. So that was very sad. I’ve been thinking about him over the last —
MC: Bless you.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: Terrible.
MC: So —
PT: Terrible loss to that family.
MC: Yeah.
PT: I think about it even today after all seventy or eighty years. Yeah. Terrible.
MC: Yeah. Do you want to have a break?
[recording paused]
PT: Worked at weekends. He was a subset. a sub editor on the —
CS: Was it the Thompson’s Newspapers up in Dundee?
PT: This is ET Thompson’s.
MC: Jock Fraser you say.
PT: Eh?
MC: Jock Fraser.
PT: Yeah. Jock Fraser. Yeah. It’s his dad.
CS: Was it his dad?
MC: What did he do on your crew?
PT: He was the bomb aimer.
CS: Was he not eighteen months ago dad?
PT: He —
CS: About eighteen months ago.
PT: Yeah. Is it eighteen months?
CS: Yeah. Something like that.
PT: Yeah.
CS: I mean he must have been well in his nineties too.
PT: Yeah.
CS: Yeah.
PT: He was the, I think, I think if you were reckoning brain power he was the, he was a very clever chap really. Good with words you know. If he wrote a letter he didn’t write pages. He wrote all that was necessary in one page and he were, he were clever you know on words. You know, he was, he was a good friend.
MC: So, tell me about this losing the engine.
PT: Pardon?
MC: You lost an engine during —
PT: Yeah.
MC: Coming back on.
PT: What happened was that after the war it were three group. Certainly 149 we were designated to photograph up to the Russian demarcation line. So sometimes we went down towards Switzerland and we were supposed designating —
CS: Designated.
PT: Different areas which we were trying to photographing but we’d a lot of trouble coming, going and coming because of the cloud formation. You couldn’t photograph if there were cloud formation. [unclear] Catherine’s mentioned. One morning we were at 9 o’clock we were at off, off the Norwegian coast and we were just, just about to either come back because there was not, we hadn’t got the too much cloud or some reason and we turned around. As we turned around as we were flying we lost an engine. So no problem we were coming back on three. So I wanted to go to the nearest landfall which was the Orkneys. Johns, Johns of course said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘We’re alright. Straight back to Cromer.’ Cromer which was the landfall into our base you see.
CS: Do you mean Cromer?
MC: Cromer. Yeah. I know. I realise what he meant.
CS: Yeah.
PT: Now in the Fleet Air Arm the navigator is the captain. Did you know that?
MC: Yeah. You told me.
CS: Maybe he wished —
PT: I’ve just told you now.
CS: Maybe he wished he’d been the captain that day.
MC: Then.
PT: I’ve told you now haven’t I?
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: I hadn’t told you before, had I?
MC: No. You hadn’t. No. I was thinking something when you said about the pilots. So yeah. So you made, you wanted to come back to nearest landfall but he decided to come —
PT: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: Come back to base.
PT: ‘No,’ he said, ‘We’ll be alright. We’ve got three.’ Well, that one that that this guy was with me.
MC: There was always the chance you’d lose an another one wasn’t there?
PT: Yeah. They lost three didn’t they?
MC: Yeah. Yeah. You didn’t want that happening to you.
PT: They lost three and lost their lives.
MC: Yeah. You were making, so why did he need to get back to base?
PT: And that same night [pause] Say what were you going to say.
MC: No. Why did he want to get back to base and not land up north?
PT: Perhaps he had a girlfriend that night. I don’t know.
CS: Well, my dad, my dad thought it was a girlfriend.
PT: He had a girlfriend in London. We could have had a trip to, there’s a place on the Norwegian coast. Now that name is just I haven’t got that name.
CS: Bergen?
PT: Eh?
CS: Bergen. Stavanger. Bergen.
PT: No. Not Bergen. No.
CS: Stavanger.
PT: Eh?
CS: Stavanger.
PT: Stavanger. No. No.
PS: Trondheim?
PT: Anyway —
CS: Trondheim.
MC: Trondheim probably.
CS: Trondheim. Trondheim.
PT: No. No.
PS: Tromso.
PT: Anyway, the thing was —
CS: What did you say? Trondheim. What was the other one?
PS: Tromso.
CS: Tromso.
PT: Eh?
CS: Tromso.
PT: No. I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up. That, that opportunity to go there and stay there.
CS: Right.
PT: It could have been dangerous but it was an opportunity to be based in Norway. Or Sweden.
CS: Do you mean, do you mean when you lost your engine to go and fly back to Norway.
PS: No.
CS: You don’t mean that do you?
PS: No.
PT: Say that again.
CS: I said you don’t mean when you lost an engine to go back to flying to Norway to land do you?
PT: No.
CS: No. You don’t mean that do you?
PT: There was no question of going back. No.
CS: No. No. No.
PT: The [pause] no there was no question and we never thought about that.
CS: No.
PT: Possibly we could have done if we’d thought about it but you don’t always thing about these things when —
CS: No.
PT: When you’re stressed.
CS: No.
MC: So did you, did you, I mean you did a raid on Kiel but after that it was did you fly any ops bringing prisoners of war back and —
PT: Yes.
MC: Operation Exodus.
PT: Did one of those.
MC: Operation Exodus.
PT: And I did two dropping food over Holland.
MC: Oh, Operation Manna. Yeah.
PT: Manna. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: There was a badge for that too.
MC: Yeah. I believe so.
PT: I never got that.
MC: I believe so. Yeah.
PT: A friend of mine who’s now deceased he got that badge. He, he was keen on badges and stuff like that. I couldn’t be bothered. Then when we were, when we were on, when we were at Methwold we were, we were wearing the 1939/45 badge. And then, and some others which would, I can’t just remember and they told us that we couldn’t wear that badge. You couldn’t wear that and that’s when Fraser said. ‘Well, if we can’t wear that badge, we joined up in 1943 and it’s 1946 if we can’t wear that badge well we won’t wear any of them.’ And he just he just washed his hands of it. Fred. And we just fed up with it and he gave the, gave the medals that he had, he gave them to his kids to play with he were that fed up.
CS: Yeah.
PT: But I I don’t know.
CS: So what were you, there was a badge you were given and then —
MC: Was this —
CS: And then the Ministry of Defence took it back off them didn’t they?
MC: Yeah. Yeah. It was a medal. He was on about, yeah you’ve got it down here. Peter.
CS: It’s amazing actually isn’t it that he did it?
PT: That’s Peter’s stuff.
MC: Yeah, it is. I just [pause] So when did you, I mean when did you fly over Niagara Falls?
PT: Oh, that was in Canada.
MC: Oh, while you were in Canada where it was.
PT: You can’t fly over —
MC: Not from the UK you can’t.
PT: You can’t. You can’t fly over Niagara Falls in Norway. It’s in Canada.
CS: It’s because he was based, he was based in Toronto.
PT: No. I was on a trip in Canada.
MC: I thought you’d gone back over there.
PT: Toronto to Hamilton and I was with this Flight Lieutenant [Bowen] who was, he was sort of, ‘I’ll go with, I’ll go with LAC Thomas today for a change.’ It was designed to see that everybody was being, was working according to plan. And he was with me that particular day and when we got towards Hamilton he he just. none of the civilian pilots on the shore and I don’t know what they were saying but he turned and we went to, we went to, and he turned and we went to Niagara falls. So we flew around and saw Niagara Falls from height. So when we were around the crew reunion do at, at the, at the hotel in, in Toronto. I just forget the name of the, in the big hotel and of course there were these menu things and Flight Lieutenant [Bowen] he was signing them, you know. Flight Lieutenant Bowen put his name. “Flight Lieutenant Bowen. Remember Niagara.” You know. That was that.
MC: Good memories.
PT: Super.
MC: Good memories.
PT: Super. Yeah. Wonderful.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. So if we come back to, at 149 Squadron you flew Operation Exodus. Exodus and Manna. You flew on Manna. Were you quite low flying on Operation Manna, weren’t you?
PT: What?
MC: You were low. Flying low on Operation Manna supply drops.
PT: I didn’t know this. The don’t tell you about losses you know. I mean when we were at Woolfox Lodge and that one kite crashed on the runway nobody knew about it. Only that that same night some fighter bombers came over and shot two more of our intake. I’ve never mentioned that before.
MC: No.
PT: But that’s what happened.
MC: Yeah.
PT: We lost, we lost three crews out of our intake and I think there were eight. Eight crews. Eight sixes. There were six in a crew you see until we got the flight engineer and we didn’t get the flight engineer until we got to squadron.
MC: Yeah.
PS: I think where you were going with that Pete was that some aircraft were lost in Operation Manna.
PT: You said that.
PS: Yeah.
PT: It’s him that has [pause] it’s him that started all this nonsense. He fired us up and fired me up and —
PS: We got you the book about —
MC: Yeah, when I’ve talked to odd people, Dutch people I talked to Dutch people and they tell me about waving to the aircraft because they were so low.
PT: Yes. They did that with me when we went to, when we dropped food over Holland they had a big wide circle with Germans. They were starving too. With Germans and Dutch all around this and of course as we were dropping these boxes of margarine and whatever they’d be rushing in. But we weren’t, we were bothered about that because if you don’t get off the ground, if you don’t get off the, out of that situation and I remember being stood behind the pilot and a lady came out of a [pause] roof like and waving this Union Jack. That was good, wasn’t it?
MC: Yeah. You were low enough to see it all.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: Never seen [pause] No. No.
MC: Yeah. So I think they were very —
PT: But do you know —
MC: They were very pleased to see you.
PT: Do you know, Mike. Is your name Mike? Yeah. I remembered your name. Mike. We went to a camp in nineteen, I just don’t know when it was. We were avid campers my wife and, well we had no alternative with children. We did a lot of camping and we got to a site near Riez. That’s the major town there. Riez. When you go to Riez you go about fifteen kilometres and you get to this Lak de St Croix and this lake was formed, it’s a, it’s a barrier supplying water to Marseilles and it was, it was the gorges of Verdun. Not the north one. The south one. There’s two gorges. There’s two gorges. There’s this one gorge and that one is in the south and he comes down and they started filling this barrier that they’d made, the French and it took them five years to fill. And when we got there in 1978 it were just about filling up. Yeah. Yeah. And they were swimming in it and paddling in it and of course the big thing was wind surfing so big head Peter went. I had a windsurfer off John Claude. He was the guy you know and I didn’t I fall off it [laughs] but we learned and my wife was a better windsurfer than me because the Dufour wing board, it was a little bit light for me. I weighed fifteen stone. I really needed a heavier [unclear] as he said. John Claude said, ‘You need a [unclear] Peter.’
PS: But Peter there was a Dutch —
PT: But we made friends with them you know.
PS: There was a Dutch connection at St Le Croix. The Dutch connection.
PT: Yeah.
PS: There was. That’s your story isn’t it? The Dutch were there.
MC: The Dutch.
PT: Oh, a lot of Dutch people there. Do you know you can’t believe this that we went to that camp for ten years and I never [laughs] I must have been as thick as two short planks I never ever, never mentioned that I’d ever been in an aircraft. That I’d ever been RAF navigator, you know. Which was a big big thing.
MC: To the Dutch it was.
PT: A big thing when you dropped food to them.
MC: Yeah. It is. Very much to the Dutch.
PT: And they were never mentioned.
MC: Yeah. They you are.
PT: Never mentioned that.
MC: They have got great affection for the RAF.
PT: I’ll give you, if I can get your address you can write to them and tell them you’ve interviewed Peter Thomas.
MC: I see, I see you also did a Cook’s Tour.
PT: Pardon?
MC: You also did a Cook’s Tour.
PT: Did a —?
MC: A Cook’s Tour of the Ruhr.
PT: Oh afterwards. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: That was —
MC: Yeah. You went all over.
PT: Yeah. That was, when we did that Cook’s Tour we took about a dozen blokes in the ground crew you know. And that was a dangerous operation you know. Somebody, I don’t know who it was but they were, it came through the grapevine that somebody pulled a ripcord or something and we lost an aircraft, you know. When you pull a ripcord and it puts a boat on the wing. And that, now when you’re flying you don’t want boats on your wing do you [laughs]
MC: So, tell me what —
PT: There were, there were some, these were Army blokes who should have just, they should have just been like that ‘til we got there and somebody pulled the rip. So they said. I wasn’t in that aircraft.
MC: Fortunately. Yeah. So you mentioned in your logbook review. What was, what was the review? What was that. The review. It’s got review Norway. Review Switzerland. Review Med and Nice. Southern France.
CS: Dad, you need your reading glasses.
PT: A map of Norway there. We landed at Woodbridge.
MC: Oh yeah.
PT: That was a big airfield to land. A big aerodrome. That was an emergency landing there that we did that.
MC: Yeah.
PT: We did a lot of things that you forget about you know. I mean that one. The biggest when —
CS: Why did you —
PT: When you think about Johns and his flying when you landed on that grass runway at Penkridge that was superb. And that —
MC: He did a good job.
PT: You never bothered about landing after that. No.
MC: Yeah. No, I was just wondering what it meant by review.
CS: Dad. Dad, why did you an emergency landing?
MC: Yeah. Because you did some photographs. Took some photographs, didn’t you?
PT: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: Well, we went to Switzerland. Switzerland and the Mediterranean at Nice. Southern France.
MC: Yeah. You said about your emergency landing. I’ll come back to what you were saying earlier because you said you made the emergency landing because you lost an engine, didn’t you? Was that it?
PT: That was in Norway.
MC: Yeah. When you were coming back from Norway.
PT: When we, when we got to Norway.
MC: That’s right. You did do that. Yeah.
PT: We were just about to start the photo and we lost this engine.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And I wanted to come back via John O’Groats.
MC: Yeah. Yeah, we did talk about that. Yeah.
CS: You talked about it.
MC: Yeah. I thought that was the one that —
PT: ‘Oh no,’ he said ‘Give us a course back to Cromer. We’ll go straight back over the —’ Of course, we’d three engines and when you’ve got three engines you should be doing something about it. Now that firm that lost their lives was the best crew. They came back from the northern, north coast of Germany who lost two engines and then they turned.
MC: Yeah.
PT: To land. You know you have to, you bank don’t you to —
MC: Yeah.
PT: They did that and lost another engine.
MC: Swept on his back.
PT: They went over and they were all killed.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And that chap was, that chap was the serge uniform that I was aware of when they were sat next to me. I don’t know his name but I’ve thought about him many a time. I’ve thought about him since I’ve been holed up here.
MC: You also mentioned in your logbook about different operation names like [Sinkum.]
PT: [Sinkum.] That were dropping bombs over. [Sinkum.]
That was getting rid of —
They were getting rid of —
MC: Yeah.
PT: These, what was the —
MC: Incendiaries. The bombs.
PT: Yes. When they bombed they dropped these —
MC: Mines. Oh no. They wouldn’t be the mines.
PT: They dropped these. Made fires.
MC: Incendiary bombs.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: We dropped those.
MC: Dispose of them. Yeah.
PT: To get rid of them over —
MC: Over the North Sea. Yeah.
PT: Over the Welsh Coast. Over the water of the Welsh Coast.
MC: Give them to the Welsh.
PT: You what?
[recording paused.
MC: So, you enjoyed your time in the RAF did you?
PT: I did what?
MC: You enjoyed your time in the RAF.
PT: I enjoyed everything that I’ve ever done except being too close to Peter Selby [laughs] If you say the wrong thing to him and for goodness sake don’t point to him [yeah] I didn’t point. I thought about that.
MC: So when did you come. When did you —
PT: He’s my best friend and when I want any advice I go to him and usually he provides me with the right advice. Not enough money but advice.
MC: So when, so when did you finish?
PT: He’s been great hasn’t he Catherine?
MC: Yeah.
PT: He’s been great.
MC: When did you finish with the RAF? Let me see.
PT: 1946.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: No. I think. No, it might have been early ’47.
MC: ’46. No. This is crashing in a Mosquito. This is a new one.
PT: Yeah. I had a crash in a Mosquito.
MC: Did you? Where was that from? Where were you flying from on that?
PT: That was from [pause]
MC: Were you at Methwold then?
PT: Eh?
MC: Were you at Methwold then?
PT: Feltwell.
MC: Oh Feltwell.
PT: No. No. I wasn’t at Feltwell.
MC: Methwold.
PT: Can I have a look at the book? [pause] The navigator, and somebody said, ‘We’ve a, we’ve a flight test going on in a Mosquito. Have you somebody you could send who wants an air trip?’ and I said, ‘No. There’s nobody here. I’m the duty navigator and there’s nobody here.’ And he said, ‘Oh well, that don’t matter. Do you want to go?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah. I’ll have a go.’ So I went in this Mosquito and this chap had, he’d got a, he’d done well in over the Mediterranean. He had, he had an award for what he’d done in ground, the ground loop to an aircraft. Not a Mosquito. It was a two engine job. I’ve forgotten the name of it and you could, you could ground loop it like that and you got away with it. But he didn’t. He tried to do that when we were landing this Mosquito and it just shot into this field you know and cut, just cut my arm. I was next to him of course and he was up with the lid and out. Being first out. Of course, it didn’t fortunately set on fire and then the group captain came around and had a word with me and said, ‘Are you alright, laddie,’ sort of business. ‘Yes sir.’ [laughs]
MC: But nobody was really hurt.
PT: No. No. No.
MC: No.
PT: But he got a, he got a black a black mark on his logbook. He got —
MC: Was —
PT: I don’t know just what he got but he was —
MC: Was the aircraft a write off?
PT: Oh well. It was pretty well buggered [laughs] Well, the, it was, a Mosquito was essentially a plywood affair.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And in the accident it broke the fuselage here and it cut my arm here. Only a slight cut and of course he went around all the camp. [unclear] accompanying the navigator to the pilot he had, you know you’d have thought they’d have had my arm off you know. Yeah. Very interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah we were lucky then. And that taught me not to do any more reserve flights you know [laughs] So I didn’t, I don’t think I flew —
MC: So you were station navigation officer at that time or —
PT: Pardon?
MC: You were station navigation, navigating man.
PT: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: At that time.
PT: For a bit, yes. At that place.
MC: What rank were you then?
PT: Pardon?
MC: What rank were you then?
PT: Well, I was, it was two years from being a sergeant in Canada. That was in about the 19th of June. Nineteen, nineteen —
MC: It would be ‘46 would it?
PT: What time was, have I made a note to you when we were finishing in Canada? Nineteen.
MC: You have. Yeah, 1944 wasn’t it?
PT: Yeah. 1944. Yeah. That’s when we finished in Canada.
MC: Yeah. You were a sergeant then.
PT: I was sergeant when I got, not until I got back to —
MC: To the UK.
PT: No. That’s right.
MC: So what rank were you when you finished in the Air Force?
PT: When I finished? A warrant officer.
MC: Oh, you did make warrant officer.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: I made a mistake. I should have, I should have had a uniform you know but being tight fisted I thought well I won’t be needing that when I go in Civvy Street but I wish I’d have got it now. There was a serge one, you know.
MC: Yeah.
PT: It was an officer type uniform.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: You know. Is this my tea?
CS: Yeah. I just topped it up. They might be able to supply him with one if he goes to this awards do, do you think. Mike?
[recording paused]
PT: Friendly with a girl you know.
Other: Can I interrupt for two seconds. I need to find out what he wants for his tea.
[recording paused]
MC: I’ve paused it. Right. It’s paused anyway.
CS: What do you want for tea, dad?
PT: What do I want for tea?
CS: That’s ok.
[recording paused]
MC: So you went back to work. Did you find it a bit calm, mundane after. After flying? So, this was —
PT: He was a nice bloke.
MC: So this was a souvenir from your 92 navigator’s course.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: I should be on that somewhere.
PS: LAC Thomas. You’re on the list there. LAC Thomas.
CS: Has he told you about going to New York?
PS: Yes.
MC: Yeah.
PT: No. I haven’t told. No.
CS: Oh, haven’t you talked about —
MC: Yeah.
PT: This chap that I met on the boat going to Canada he was, we were on the ship, on board ship and he finished up in the next bed to me and we got, we got quite, well we were friends. We only lost that friendship when he got a commission and the other fellow was from St Austell in Cornwall and unfortunately he was lost on a, on a [pause] on a Mosquito. When he came back instead of I did the same thing I volunteered. I made application to go on Mosquitoes rather than Lancasters because I thought it would be safer you see. Anyway, I didn’t. I think they were choosing officers and I was only a sergeant. So I missed it but this fella got it and he was lost on a —
MC: Yeah.
PT: He was lost on a trip on a Mosquito with a Canadian, a South African pilot who came over when we went for a tour with my Javelin. The first car I bought. We called at this cottage. We made enquiries at St Austell and the man said, ‘Oh, it’s my wife. On the roadside. It’s a cottage. Go and knock on the door and it’ll be you.’ And when we went into this room it was just like a mausoleum. There were all these things from, from him being in the Air Force and [pause] sad. His mother lost her only son.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: And it was sad.
MC: So, did you find it, going back to when you came out the Air Force was it difficult? Was it difficult to settle back into civilian life after four years of flying?
PT: Not for me. No.
MC: No. What did you think about the job that Bomber Command did?
PT: What Bomber Command did?
MC: Yeah. During the war.
PT: Well, like the guy who was running it. Harris. He was called Harris, wasn’t he?
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PT: Harris.
MC: Bomber Harris.
PT: He said if we just keep bombing them a bit longer they would [laughs] they’ll give up.
MC: Yeah.
PT: We lost a lot of lives that we could have avoided but you see they’d have been Bomber Command lives. So, I don’t know. I don’t know. I were glad I didn’t —
MC: What about Churchill?
PT: Pardon?
MC: How did, did you get much about what Churchill was doing and Churchill was —
PT: Not then. No.
MC: No. Yeah. Yeah.
PT: People didn’t. They didn’t tell people. You know, when that, when that aircraft crashed upside down you know we got, we didn’t get to know that. We just got to know that it was lost. Somebody else told us something else.
MC: Yeah. So, I mean, post-war Bomber Command wasn’t recognised probably for want of a better word as it should have been. How did you feel about that?
PT: I think it was, I think we were underestimated.
MC: Did you get the clasp? Did you get the Bomber Command clasp?
PT: No.
MC: You didn’t send for the clasp.
PT: No. I haven’t anything.
CS: Have you applied for that?
PT: Have I got a clasp?
PS: No. No. You didn’t get the clasp.
PT: No.
PS: You had —
CS: He’s made enquiries.
PS: Yeah. Nothing’s about —
CS: He hasn’t made —
[recording paused]
PT: He, if there are any clasps —
MC: If you what? Sorry, what was his name?
PT: Pardon?
MC: What was his name? Victor.
PT: Victor Tytherington.
MC: Oh right.
PT: Have you heard that name?
MC: No.
PT: No. Well, he, he was a navigator late on and he went and he trained in South Africa and he, there was various, there was a Manna clasp for dropping food over Holland. There was something for that. I haven’t anything for any of them.
PS: So we —
PT: Sorry.
PS: I could fill in the gap.
[recording paused]
PT: A tour of ops on Bomber Command. You know, like joining Methwold. If that job had have gone on, it finished of course but if it had gone on you’d have to do thirty ops before you’d finished your tour.
MC: A full tour was thirty. Yeah.
PT: Thirty. Thirty two. I don’t just know. I know there was a gunner in Todmorden and he did about eighty odd in a, as a gunner. Henry he were called. There were a few in Todmorden you know. Just navigators and stuff you know but we never bothered. Got to do. I had enough to do with this bakehouse that I got shuffled into with my dad.
MC: You were in Todmorden?
PT: Pardon?
MC: You lived in Todmorden.
PT: Todmorden.
MC: Yeah.
CS: [unclear]
PT: I was fifty years in Todmorden.
CS: Yeah. He was born in Nelson.
MC: I used to work up that way. How long were you a baker then?
PT: When I came out of the Air Force I had the, aircrew they had the chance of going to university. That was the first mistake I made.
CS: You could have gone.
PT: Me and my wife, no matter now said, ‘Well, you were that busy trying to get your end away.’ [laughs]
CS: But also you said you could have gone into BOAC.
PT: With her.
MC: Yeah. Did you consider BOAC?
PT: Pardon?
MC: Did you consider BOAC? British Overseas Air —
PT: When I was, when I was at Methwold, yes. I could have gone on BOA, BOAC. I was asked to go with having this Reserved Occupation in the Treasury Department I turned it down but I’m not sorry about that. I never felt sorry about that really.
CS: But you also thought, he said they wouldn’t need navigators. That’s why he didn’t want to go to BOAC.
PT: When I left, when I left the squadron and the outfit, when they brought the crew up I don’t know where Johns went but Fraser, the bomb aimer he joined another crew and, but I went. I went north and I did an instructor’s course and I was, when I was, when I was on that test flight I was supposed to be an instructor at this aerodrome. The aerodrome. There’s that many around there. There’s, it could be North Luffenham. There’s a lot of different ones. Cottesmore. Woolfox Lodge.
MC: Yeah.
PT: That was tragic when they lost that one you know. That were just poor bloody maintenance. There was, there was a little amusing incident. I was in a, we were in a NAAFI queue and you know the ATS people? They deliver aircraft. Well, a person had. We were sort of in this queue for the NAAFI and over to our left a person not known at the time man or woman walked and had a helmet on and they were, the ATS people they used to deliver any sort of aircraft. Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Halifaxes. Any one they could fly them. And on this particular occasion there was a queue like of the pilots you know, and they were sort of saying, ‘Great job that,’ you know. And suddenly this great job [laughs] pulled her helmet off and she were a woman and all the pilots that were in this queue you know and we said [laughs].
[recording paused]
PT: I think when I, when I got the, when I got back into the Grammar School stream through sheer luck really I think that’s when I enjoyed it. And my brother, younger brother he hated the Grammar School but I liked it and I liked this teacher, Mr Fowles and Miss Graham and all different people. I loved it. Yeah.
CS: His younger brother was six and a half years younger.
PT: I didn’t do particularly well because I was always going out with this girl or that girl. I had a girl from when I was at Grammar School [laughs] yeah.
CS: His, his —
MC: A bit of a lad were you?
CS: His young brother, his younger brother —
PT: A lad yeah.
CS: Was in the military police.
PT: Yeah.
CS: So he was there in Germany when they had the trials you know for the —
MC: Oh yeah, Nuremberg —
CS: Yeah. That’s right.
PT: I probably missed a lot out really.
CS: So what are you going to tell us about the ATA?
PT: Not a —
MC: Yes. It was ATA, wasn’t it? Yeah. Air Transport Auxiliary I think it was. Yeah. I mean they were good pilots some of them.
PT: Pardon?
MC: They were good pilots some of them.
PT: Oh yeah. They had to pilot anything. They would jump into a Spitfire or a Lancaster. They were good.
MC: Yeah. Well thanks very much for your interview, Peter.
PS: Shall I put that —
MC: Thank you very much.
PT: You know all these crew members? Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer.
CS: Gunner.
PT: Mid-upper gunner, rear gunner, wireless operator. If you want to, if you want to contact them for any information unfortunately they’ve all gone. They’re dead.
MC: You’re the last one.
PT: So you can’t. You can’t. You can’t say, ‘Is it right what Peter Thomas said?’ I’m the last one.
MC: I believe every word you said Peter.
PT: I mean they were, they had their moments, you know. I mean Peter’s told me things about dropping food over Holland when I never thought anything about it but they were, they lost aircraft there hadn’t they Peter?
PS: Yes. According to the book on Operation Manna.
MC: Yeah. They lost three.
PS: Three Lancasters on that.
PT: And I did —
PS: They collided I think.
CS: Collided.
PT: I did two. It did two to the Hague. To the Hague.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And, and we I don’t know just which. I tell you what we did one to Juvencourt.
MC: Oh yeah.
PT: And we brought, we stayed overnight and then we brought a lot of ex-prisoners. British boys who were prisoners. Prisoners of war.
MC: Yeah.
PT: That was, that’s tragic.
MC: Yeah. Juvencourt.
PT: When you hear of one being lost through stupid pulling at a rip cord and you know you can’t believe how daft people are.
MC: There were a few aircraft lost when the prisoners were brought back.
PT: Anyway, it didn’t affect me.
MC: No.
PT: We only did the one and one’s enough. Well, when we were at Juvencourt we went, we went drinking. These French [robbing] us you know with this cheap wine you know and I can’t, I can’t understand why I finished up on my own and I finished up in an American camp and this, this American said, ‘Oh sure. We’ve got a place for you boy.’ I went and I slept in this American camp and I wasn’t, I were on my own you know. I don’t know where any, we’d been drinking this wine. I didn’t know where the hell I was and this American said, ‘You follow me and I’ll finish you.’ That sort of talk you know. I thought that were wonderful. I really, I enjoyed the Grammar School. You see at the Grammar School in 1940 I’d been there then about four or five years and a lot of the boys they’d been called up and I lost a very good mentor of Harry Marsden who was lost on a ship in, opposite St Nazaire. He was, they battened him down and he was lost. Harry Marsden. He was my mentor. He was the cricket captain. The head of the school. The football captain. If you mentioned Harry Marsden he was in it, you know and we lost him.
MC: He was in everything.
PT: 1942 he was killed. He was killed on this ship. It was an, it was a British warship. I forget the name of the ship and it was outside St Nazaire and it got sunk and they battened it. They saved a lot and they didn’t get, they didn’t get Harry out. He was, he was battened down and that was sad you know when we were going on to another course you know. I mean when we got back from Canada we were at [pause] we were at Millom. Well, we were at Pannal Ash College and they sent us up to Millom and we went back flying on Avro Ansons.
MC: Yeah. So you brought plenty of —
PT: Chicken Rock and up to the islands and back, you know.
MC: You brought plenty of stuff back.
PT: Then we went to, then we were posted to —
MC: Husbands Bosworth.
PT: Husbands Bosworth. Husbands Bosworth, yeah. And that’s where we crewed up and we were on Lancasters.
MC: Yeah.
PT: No. Not Lancasters. Wellingtons. And that’s when we went and converted on to —
MC: Lancasters.
PT: Lancasters. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. So when you came back from Canada you brought a load of stuff back with you from Canada. Cigarettes and stuff like that.
PT: When I came back from, when I was in Moncton they said, we had a, we had a kit bag. A Canadian. And a Canadian kit bag and they said, ‘If you want to get the maximum amount on board ship,’ he said, ‘You’ll have to buy a Canadian, not a Canadian one but a special one they had for erks like me. And it were a bag. It stood about that high and of course you didn’t need the others but I had that many cigarettes and stuff and bottles of cream for my mother that I put this this big kit bag and I had a pack. What did they call it? Like a —
MC: A rucksack.
PT: Knapsack. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
PT: And I put this big one, I got somebody to lift it up and it lifted on like this and it were, it were about like this you know and when we got to the ship, when we got to the ship you know I was just hoping that we would have just gone up one step and on to the ship you know. And we went up this gantry you know. Up and up and up with this and when I was [laughs] when I got to where I was supposed to be I were absolutely knackered with this. With this big kit bag you know full of cigarettes and bottles of cream for my mother and stuff like that. Yeah. I enjoyed that. There were moments when you were a bit fed up you know and I mean I got walloped with a master who was, he also hit me but he’d been reported in a magazine that he’d hit a girl the same way. He just, for some, I didn’t know what I’d done wrong and he just whacked me across the face and Geoffrey my younger brother said, ‘He did the same to me.’ And then in this magazine, “Reunion,” this girl said she got whacked with him. He were a bully. He was a bully.
CS: Dad —
[recording paused]
MC: So I’ll just finish up by saying thank you for the interview anyway Peter. It’s much enjoyable. I’m, I thank you very much for doing the interview.
PT: Yeah.
MC: It’s been very good. Very entertaining.
PT: It was good, was it?
MC: Yeah.
PT: Yeah.
MC: Thank you.



Mike Connock, “Interview with Peter Thomas,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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